Hong Kong media group Next Digital, the parent company of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, has announced it will cease operations on Thursday amid a national security investigation assets freeze.
According to an internal email seen by HKFP, the company told staff on Wednesday that board members had decided to stop running the firm from Thursday. The human resources department would follow up on compensation for employees in accordance with the Employment Ordinance, it said.
The termination of Next Digital came two weeks after five of its senior executives were arrested on suspicion of breaching the Beijing-enacted security legislation. The authorities raided the pro-democracy tabloid’s newsroom and froze HK$18 million worth of assets of Next Digital’s subsidiaries.
Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and AD Internet Limited were charged with collusion with foreign forces, alongside Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Apple Daily Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law. The duo were ordered to remain behind bars awaiting trial, while the three other senior executives were released on police bail.
In its memo on Wednesday, Next Digital said it would retain legal consultants to handle the salaries and repayment of those employed by the three companies. The firm had sought a release of its frozen assets from the Security Bureau to pay staff, but to no avail.
“Although the road ahead is difficult, we keep moving forward. Until we meet again,” an internal email read.
Apple Daily saw an abrupt end last Wednesday when it printed one million copies of its last-ever edition. Hongkongers snapped up the final issue of the publication the next day. The 26-year-old newspaper and its founder Jimmy Lai had been unapologetically critical of Beijing since its founding in 1995. Lai is also set to stand trial under the security law and faces life in prison.
The sweeping legislation imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong exactly a year ago outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.
Western countries have slammed the closure of Apple Daily, with the UK calling it a “chilling blow to free expression.” Beijing, on the other hand, hailed the arrests at Apple Daily as “an act of justice.”